Stranger Things Season 2 Review: Part One (Spoilers)

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Stranger Things Season 2 Review: Part One (Spoilers)

Oliver Barnfield, Cool Guy/Entertainment Editor

It’s the moment the world has been waiting for- Stranger Things season 2! As a lover of the first season, I’ve taken it upon myself to review every season two episode. It will not be easy, my friends! This article will be split into two: Part One and Part Two, with each part covering each half of the season. This is Part One.

Episode One: MadMax

In the episode that kicks off the season, the status quo is set: Things are normal on the surface of Hawkins,  but are not exactly as they seem beneath this. The town is still recovering from the disappearance of Will Byers, with the young boy being subjected to many tests commanded by the seemingly innocent Dr. Owens. Noah Schnapp brings a great performance as Will, with his frightened demeanor undercutting his strange visions of a new monster. We also see 2 new characters, Max and Billy.

Max is a cool girl who Lucas and Dustin both have a crush on. This is a fun subplot, but not a terribly original one, but it is saved from mundanity by the mystery surrounding Max and her brother Billy. Who are these people? Where did they come from? The episode also focuses on Nancy and Steve, two characters who have had a rocky relationship in the past. They are happy together, but Nancy can’t seem to get past the fact that it’s Steve fault that Barb was killed.

And what of Winona Ryder’s Joyce? Well, she has at last settled down with Bob, a well meaning and affable guy who seems to genuinely love Joyce. But I got the feeling that, like every character in the premiere, Joyce is really unhappy and her calm attitude, She still believes that something is wrong, and Bob is a pleasantly normal distraction that bring a stability that former flames Hopper and Lonnie never had.

This episode was essentially a tone setter for the rest of the season- it establishes the characters and brings up the underlying threats present throughout this new crop of episodes.

Grade: A-

Episode Two: Trick or Treat, Freak

Episode Two is all about pretending and contradicting. These themes go hand in hand on one Halloween night, where our story takes place. The kids dress up as The Ghostbusters in what is by far one of the funniest episodes of the series so far that quickly delves into darker territory as it draws to a close.

On the spookiest time of the year, our heroes all pretend that they are something that they, quite plainly, are not. Jonathan goes to a party and attempts to fit in, only to find that forgetting about his relationship with Nancy is unavoidable. Nancy and Steve get caught up in an argument, with Steve wishing to forget, and Nancy calling him out against his lies. The tension between the couple is high, especially as Jonathan reenters the picture. This plot thread, as it happens, is not my favorite. It feels forced and unnatural, and while all 3 actors do phenomenal jobs at portraying these characters, it doesn’t feel narratively sound.

Will is trying to pretend that everything is fine. Despite Jonathan’s encouragement, he knows that he will never be normal, and as the dark shadow of a new beast looms over him, he begins to worry. I’m glad Will as a character is being explored, and his talk with Mike reminds me of the beginning of the series, when the two seemed to have the closest bond out of the group.

Hopper’s story is a little less realized than the kid’s plot, and like the other story threads this episode, it deals with lies and pretending. Hopper misjudges his time and offends Eleven in what isn’t the greatest of conflicts, but it holds up okay.

Overall, this episode is uneven. It doesn’t have the amount of mystery or importance that MadMax had, but it does a decent job.

Grade: B+

Episode Three: The Pollywog

Well, you know what they say, third times the charm. Man, this episode was great. While the first two episodes were rather slow, this episode is fast paced and suspenseful. Eleven escapes from Hopper’s house, Dustin’s strange new Gremlin-like pet goes wild, and Max’s character is explored remarkably well. The teen’s storyline picks up the pace and- gah! That cliffhanger! This review is so short because I NEED TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!!!

This is, simply put, the action side of Stranger Things in full swing.

Grade: A

Episode Four: Will the Wise

In a marked contrast to “Trick or Treat, Freak” which reveled in humor and quiet, emotional moments, and “The Pollywog” which had moments of rushing adrenaline, “Will the Wise” has an underlying sense of dread. It is by far the darkest episode of the second season. The music is brooding and uneasy, and the characters have reached their tipping point.

Eleven and Hopper have a huge argument that brings up new revelations about her past, and Nancy and Jonathan attempt to make contact with the government. And Will, the most fragile of the characters, has a breakdown that leads Hopper and Joyce to investigate his visions.

These plot-lines are enjoyable, but what made this episode not on par with the last was the plot concerning Dustin. While I appreciate his character development, something that we haven’t seen last season, his actions make him seem like a bad person. He lies to his friends, and when Will tells him to get rid of it, he doesn’t listen and acts selfishly. It’s out of character and the shot of the Pollywog devouring the cat whole at the end was sickening. Ew.

This episode was foreboding, and that can be good, but Dustin’s actions felt needlessly abusive and stupid. It’s something we haven’t seen before, yes, but that doesn’t mean we have to see it.

Grade: B

Episode Five: Dig Dug

This episode goes down a dark hole, both figuratively and literally. It’s even darker than the previous episode at times, but still keeps the characters in line. It’s done well, I’d say it’s better than the Will the Wise. We see so much in this episode! “Hopper trapped in a hole! Jonathan and Nancy meeting up with a crazy conspiracy theorist! And best of all, a look at the backstory of Eleven’s mom. This was the most fascinating part of the episode-a short scene, yes, but one that radiated passion and emotion. We see Eleven, free but alone, learning about herself without Mike or Brenner of even Hopper. Eleven didnt seem like a good solo character at first, but this episode proves that is wrong.

The same goes for Lucas, who attempts to connect with Max, in another short scene that also fleshes out a character in a delightful way. We see Lucas at home, and with Max, apart from the group. It’s fascinating to see what could have been a one note character grow beyond this and function outside the ensemble.

But the one problem with this episode and the season so far is the forced conflict of Nancy and Jonathan’s quest for Barb. Of course, Barb was a minor character that mostly served as a plot device, but due to overwhelming fan backlash against her death, this season attempts to revive this plot thread. And honestly her death in Season One was purely a plot advancement that wasn’t supposed to matter. But this season attempts to take a literally dead plot line and revive it for fan service only. And while the writing is good for these scenes (except for that awkward motel room scene) the purpose of the plot is only to let the teens do something.

Grade: A

Aaaaaaaand….. I’ve finished with the first half of the season, so the second half will be coming soon. Next half will be coming soon, and it comes with an overview of the season as a whole.